With “encore careers” increasingly for the wealthy, avocations and hobbies should take center stage

Hard to do without $$$

Hard to do without $$$

“Encore careers” is a term that has come to capture the dynamic of experienced professionals who step off of demanding, if highly paid, treadmills to pursue work that is more soul satisfying and contributing to the community. There’s even a popular website (tag line “second acts for the greater good”) and a book devoted to encore careers. The inherent idea is this: You’ve made your pile of cash, or perhaps invested/inherited/married your way into it. Now it’s time to get away from the grind and do something more personally fulfilling.

I’ve written about encore careers on several occasions here on this blog. For those who can afford to move in this direction, the possibilities are rich. But it is increasingly clear that the option of pursuing an encore career will be available to very few Boomers and Gen Xers, and likely to few Millennials as well. The reason basically boils down to personal finances, including the costs of living, schooling, and raising a family, as well as the challenges of saving for retirement. Too many are already earning a modest income. They don’t need a lower paid encore career to put even more pressures on their financial well being. And for those who are underemployed or unemployed, the notion of an encore career may be sheer fantasy.

This is not to say that vocational mobility and new careers are impossibilities. Far from it. Additional training, education, and certifications can open up doors for people who are returning to the workforce or trying to switch gears. It isn’t always easy, but viable options exist.

However, the encore concept of making a bundle and then switching to a “making a difference” career isn’t very realistic for many people.

So even if earning a living at a job that provides scant psychic income is in the cards for the longer haul, does this mean that personally fulfilling work and activities can never enter one’s life picture? Nope, not by a longshot. For years, I’ve been promoting immersive avocations and hobbies as potential keys to a fulfilling life. They may include artistic and creative endeavors, outdoor and sporting activities, caring for animals, political and social causes, side gig businesses, intellectual projects, lifelong learning, community and faith-based service, or enjoyable pastimes.

In unusual instances, that avocation or hobby could transform into a decent paying, full-time gig. But even if it doesn’t, it can fill a gap in one’s life left by the intersection of work and personal obligations. Such activities may be enormously fulfilling and meaningful.

The challenges of finding personally rewarding work at decent pay will continue. Against this backdrop, vocations and hobbies will loom larger as sources of individual fulfillment. If you’d like to ponder this topic further, I invite you to read these earlier articles:

What’s your hobby? (2015)

Targets of workplace bullying: Pursuing healthy, immersive activities away from the job (2015)

On “quit lit,” “encore” careers, and the realities of creating work options (2015)

Our avocations and hobbies: The third pillar of work-life balance? (2012)

Will our avocations save us? (2010)

Embracing creative dreams at midlife (2010)

Success vs. significance on the job

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Fast Company co-founder Alan Webber, in an excellent blog piece for Next Avenue, recounts a talk he attended featuring Dr. Aravind Srinivasan, a pioneering eye surgeon:

Here’s what Srinivasan said: “There’s a difference between success and significance. Success is what happens to you. Significance is what happens through you. Success is what comes to you. Significance is what you give away to others.”

The good doctor’s observation caused Webber to reflect:

It’s the kind of distinction that, when you hear it, makes you stop and think. You think about the difference between success and significance. And you think about your own life and the culture in which we live.

We live in a culture that worships success. Money is the default setting we use to measure success: The more money you make, the greater your success. The greater your success, the more you are deemed worthy.

We tend to equate wealth and success with intelligence and talent. If you are rich enough, famous enough, successful enough, you are qualified to have important opinions. You’re worth listening to. You may even be qualified to run for President.

Beware of avaricious success seekers

If “success is what comes to you” and “significance is what you give away to others,” then let me say: Beware of grasping, covetous success seekers.  They rationalize raw ambition to the exclusion of so many other qualities and values. They walk over and through other people; the skillful ones do it with smiles on their faces and may be appear, at least from a distance, as charming or even “friendly.” They may manipulate and bully as necessary, especially if someone is in their way. Whether due to insecurity, entitlement, or some combination of both, they believe that the brass ring should be theirs for the grabbing.

I have seen these folks in higher education, as I’m sure you’ve seen them in your vocation. There’s another odd dynamic that I’ve noticed about this type of individual in my business: They have a knack for racking up accolades relatively early in their careers, even when it’s not clear that they’ve accomplished anything of . . . well . . . significance. It’s almost as if they’re getting public brownie points for building their resumes. These honors and recognitions fuel their belief that future kudos are their birthright.

Instead…

Generically speaking, most of us want to be “successful,” however we might regard the term. Indeed, aspirations, goals, hopes, and dreams are all fine. So let’s pursue them with authenticity, guided by an inner ethical voice that says we should strive to make contributions of significance and treat others with a baseline of dignity.

Charging tuition for credit-bearing, unpaid internships

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I’m delighted that Washington Post reporter Danielle Douglas-Gabriel is shining a light on the all-too-common practice of colleges and universities charging full tuition for unpaid internships that earn academic credit. In a front-page, bottom-of-the-fold story in today’s edition, she reports on Seton Hall University (New Jersey) students who are mounting a petition drive, calling upon the university to stop charging for internship credits:

Seton Hall University senior [Joshua Siegel] is among a group of students petitioning the school in South Orange, N.J., to stop charging for internship credits.

“It’s unfortunate that the school, which is not providing the service, not facilitating the process, not suffering any strain on its resources, feels it is owed compensation for me performing a function on my own,” Siegel said.

The university is responding by saying that the resources invested in overseeing, supervising, and monitoring internships justify that tuition charges. This response echoes what others within the higher education industry are saying in defending this practice.

True, a university expends resources in sponsoring credit-earning internship programs. However, those resources are largely administrative, with some faculty oversight that doesn’t come close to demanding the time and effort devoted to traditional classroom teaching and evaluation of students. I believe that charging some fee for facilitating and overseeing credit-earning internships is appropriate, but not close to full tuition.

Here’s one of my quotes in the Washington Post article:

“This is a huge ethical issue for universities that they are sneaking under the rug,” said David Yamada, director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. “In this era of skyrocketing student debt, the fact that students are probably having to borrow money to do an internship for free is appalling.”

Commencement season: Career and life launches yesterday and today

Screenshot from On The Set of New York site

Screenshot from On The Set of New York site

“When Harry Met Sally,” the 1989 romantic comedy starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, and directed by Rob Reiner, easily makes my list of the top New York City movies. It’s like a great Woody Allen movie without the unease over Woody, blending endearing performances with classic Manhattan locations and musical standards performed by Harry Connick, Jr.

In fact, among the most nostalgic bumps for me are the opening scenes, when Harry and Sally meet up for the first time on the campus of the University of Chicago, following their graduation. A mutual friend has facilitated their shared drive to New York City, where they both are moving. They get to know each other during their trip and don’t exactly hit it off. They part company at Washington Square Park, in the heart of Greenwich Village, not to see each other again for several years.

Now, I neither attended the University of Chicago nor shared a long car ride to New York with Sally Albright/Meg Ryan. But a year after graduating from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, I would leave for law school at New York University in Greenwich Village. So I can relate to the life transitions captured by Harry and Sally’s drive to New York.

***

With the calendar turning to May, we are now approaching graduation season. Okay, so I’m not a big fan of commencement ceremonies. With notable exceptions (such as here and here), the speeches and remarks tend to be banal and forgettable.

But I have enjoyed those stretches of time that embrace endings and beginnings. I spent my final undergraduate semester in a life-changing study abroad program in England. I spent my final law school semester participating in several rewarding extracurricular activities, with a post-graduate job already awaiting my arrival. Being a nostalgic creature by nature, I can easily get soggy thinking of both.

***

Increasingly, however, the making of these sentimental memories are the province of the more fortunate. The classic “college experience” became the American middle class ideal during the second half of the last century, but rising tuition levels have rendered it less of a reality today. During the past ten years, especially, heavy student debt and the entry-level job market have been understandably ratcheting up the anxieties of soon-to-be graduates. In essence, the supposed “blast-off years” of one’s early twenties are now loaded down with a lot of ballast.

With heavy student debt, unpaid internships, and the like, America has front loaded the costs of getting one’s start in life. Many culprits have contributed to this state of affairs. The higher education industry, our political and governmental infrastructures, corporate hiring practices, and student loan vendors — among other stakeholders — all share responsibility. Until we summon the collective will to change this state of affairs, higher levels of debt and anxiety will continue to accompany new graduates as they collect their diplomas on graduation day.

Weighing the exit option for a toxic job

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In “10 things I realized after I quit my job without a plan” (Business Insider), life coach and consultant Anna Lundberg shares her experience of walking away from a job and creating her own business:

In September 2013, I walked out of my office and into the unknown. . . . I emptied my apartment of seven years, put my boxes into storage, and moved into my parents’ guest room as I thought about my next move.

My intention since the start had been to create a more independent and flexible lifestyle.

. . . So far, so good! This time last year, I officially incorporated my own consulting business and I’ve been busy on great projects ever since, working with big-name clients, making new connections, and sharpening my skill set.

Drawing upon hindsight, she then offers ten points reflecting upon her experience:

1. “Life on the other side is not as scary as you think.”

2. “You have to stick to your guns.”

3. “There are more options than you ever thought possible.”

4. “You can easily live on less money than you think.”

5. “New opportunities will appear from nowhere.”

6. “It doesn’t have to be perfect from day one.”

7. “Nothing is forever.”

8. “You are not alone.”

9. “You’ll never have all the answers.”

10. “Not all who wander are lost.”

Lindbergh offers explanations for each statement, and it’s worth checking out her full piece to read them.

The escape route

Many folks discover this blog because of their experiences with workplace bullying and abuse. Long-time readers know, however, that I resist touting one-size-fits-all fixes. Each work situation has its own individual dynamics, rendering easy advice dangerous, especially when issued from an online perch. That said, for some the exit option is the most viable one. It should be weighed carefully.

Back in 2011, I wrote about the “Should I stay or should I go?” question for folks in bad work environments:

When should you hang in there, and when should you pursue an exit strategy? This question confronts a lot of people who feel stuck in frustrating or even toxic work situations. And given the realities of a tough job market, the dilemma of what to do becomes even more pronounced.

In that post, I offered insights inspired by entrepreneur Seth Godin and the rock band The Clash, as well as more concrete suggestions about thinking through one’s options. To these points, I add this one: One of the most recurring regrets that I hear from targets of severe workplace bullying is that they didn’t remove themselves quickly enough from bad work situations, even as the abusive behaviors kept mounting. Among the costs was that it became much harder to pick up the pieces afterward, including developing options for moving forward with their livelihoods and careers.

It doesn’t appear that Anna Lundberg walked away from a toxic job. Her decision seems to have been grounded in a desire to change the direction of her life in a more positive way. Thus, the sunny tone of her piece understandably may not resonate with someone who is feeling trapped in a terrible workplace. It’s pretty damn hard to be optimistic about your future when you’re being emotionally pummeled. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that walking away from one job for any reason will lead to something better.

But until more employers start to take abuse at work seriously and the law steps in to create stronger legal protections, leaving a bad job — voluntarily or otherwise — will remain the most common “resolution” of severe workplace bullying. Whenever possible, those who are experiencing toxic jobs should try to get ahead of the situation. It is not an easy thing to do — at first glance, it may feel downright impossible — but it’s much better than waiting for others to impose the choices.

Additional resources

Those considering their exit options may want to review the Need Help page of this blog, which, among other things, collects a variety of blog posts that can help to clarify the decision making process.

 

Servant leadership in the contemporary workplace

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Imagine a world where most leaders see their roles as serving their constituencies, imbued with a sense of the broader good, rather than simply adding bullet points to their resumes in preparation for the next climb up the greasy pole. Imagine professional cultures where ambition and the desire to advance in our careers are balanced with values of care and responsibility.

How can we grow leaders who hold themselves to these higher standards?

Massachusetts educator and organizational consultant Steven Lawrence is an emerging voice on the virtues of servant leadership, a topic that deserves much greater attention. In an essay posted to his Ground Experience site, Steve introduces servant leadership by citing the seminal work of the late Robert K. Greenleaf, founder of the Center for Applied Ethics:

Greenleaf spent more than 40 years after early retirement researching management, leadership, education, and organizational culture. Over time, he came to the conclusion that the institutions in this country -both public and private- are suffering from a “crisis in leadership.”

…Greenleaf introduces a vision of leadership in which leaders see themselves as servants first and leaders second. Leadership is viewed as an instrument of serving the greater good, not as an end itself, and the search for and acquisition of power or influence is always subsumed into the overarching desire to be of service.

Servant Leaders are fundamentally about people and define the stakeholders in their sphere of influence quite broadly, including colleagues, subordinates, and boards of directors/trustees, clients and even the world at large. They place the needs of their people as primary and will not sacrifice the needs of the organization they lead in the service of furthering their own careers.

My connection with Steve has been through our common interest in preventing and stopping workplace bullying. He discussed servant leadership in this context at the Workplace Bullying Workshop that I hosted last fall in Boston. Suffice it to say, the presence of more servant leaders in our workplaces would sharply reduce the prevalence of bullying and other forms of interpersonal mistreatment on the job.

I find the concept of servant leadership to be enormously appealing and life affirming, especially amidst professional cultures where raw ambition, private agendas, and naked ideology too often prevail. As a denizen of the academic workplace, I have witnessed and experienced the destruction wrought by self-serving administrators and board members. Looking at academe from a distance, one might visualize it as an idyllic work setting, fostered by leaders who share a love of learning, research, and ideas. All too often, this is not the case. In fact, servant leadership is increasingly rare in higher education.

So herein lies the rub: For more servant leadership, you need the presence of — yup — more servant leaders. To me this means that the philosophy and practice of servant leadership should be part of the training and orientation of future and present leaders. This doesn’t require us to cast aside our career goals and aspirations. Rather, we should treat opportunities to lead as privileges that enable us to make a difference, guided by a spirit of service.

From hoop jumping to legacy work and places in between

(image courtesy of http://worldartsme.com)

(image courtesy of http://worldartsme.com)

Last week I invoked the writings of philosopher Charles Hayes to consider how the ripple effects of our good works can positively impact the world, perhaps in ways we will never know. I’d like to return to questions of how we can make a difference during our lives — in whatever sphere(s) we deem important — by putting on a spectrum the notion of hoop jumping on one end and the concept of legacy work on the other. Please allow me to engage in some Sunday meandering….

First, some definitions may be in order here. By “hoop jumping” I refer to schooling, credentialing, networking, and gaining initial experience. These steps take us to where we’d like to be; they position us. (This is why it is rare for a post-graduate first job to be a true “dream job.”)

By “legacy work” I mean our core contributions and accomplishments, the stuff we’d like to be remembered for in the longer run and by people we care about. In the realm of vocation, it may involve creative or intellectual work, achievement in business, service to others, building something, activism and social change work, or some type of innovation or invention.

Some people jump through their requisite hoops early, completing the heart of their formal learning at a relatively young age, promptly engaging in the necessary networking and positioning, and embarking on a long-term career that brings them much satisfaction. Certainly there may be setbacks and diversions along the way, but they start building their body of legacy work fairly early in life.

For many others, however, that process will include stops and starts, ups and downs, and recasting that often requires jumping through new hoops. A career is rarely completely linear, moving irresistibly upward until we reach some pinnacle and then retire. Furthermore, opportunities to do meaningful work, especially that which may fall into the legacy category, do not necessarily build toward some big crescendo close to the end. Whether they are handed to us or we create them, we rarely have full control over timing and sequencing!

***

I realize that I have been talking mainly in the context of careers here. Nevertheless, as I’ve suggested before, one’s legacy work need not be vocational in nature. It can include parenting, caregiving, an engaging avocation, a deeply meaningful hobby, or charitable work. For some, a “day job” may pay the bills, but an unrelated project or endeavor brings the deeper meaning.

Over the years, I have witnessed these scenarios many times. With some people, the discovery of legacy work has actually been a re-discovery, marking a return to interests and passions they put on the shelf in years past.

***

Let me also acknowledge the sense of great economic and social privilege implicit in what I’m writing about. Those of us who are in a position to devote a good chunk of our waking hours to endeavors that provide satisfaction, meaning, accomplishment, and even joy are very fortunate. Countless millions of people around the world do not have that luxury; they are living in survival mode.

I hesitate to characterize such blessings as constituting a finger wagging obligation to make the most of them and to contribute something good to the world. That said, we live in a world in serious need of more joy, creativity, humanity, and compassion. Who wants to look back at a life only to see a lot of wonderful opportunities squandered and wasted?

***

Looking at the tortoise and the hare folktale, I personally identify more with the tortoise, at least when it comes to this general subject. In fact, I look with admiration at those folks who have figured things out much earlier than I did. I started this blog in 2008, over twenty years into my career as a lawyer and law professor. I now understand that it took me that long to forge a sufficiently wise, authentic, and mature worldview to start writing for a more public audience on the topics that frequent these pages.

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